The FRC snap - Using the ~2 year absence to reset culture and move past antiquity in a post-pandemic world

In another thread I saw people talking about how they will use the ~2 year absence from FIRST as an opportunity to change culture on their team that they’ve been trying to change for a while, as well as a hope that certain aspects of the FIRST program (from unsolicited physical contact at events to outdated traditions that no longer applly to the present day and more) would be phased out.

With this “new beginning” about to unfold, what changes would you like to see in your team, and in the FIRST program overall?

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(maybe not quite the exact question you asked, but whatever)
It’s been a bit incremental, but we’re really trying this spring to clean out a lot of old stuff we have and make our physical space more organized and have stuff we actually want to use and be accessible. 20 years as a team leads to a lot of old hardware, some predating most COTS revolutions in FRC (I don’t need sprockets without the six hole pattern thank you very much). I will be so happy to not have to wade through a lot of whatever to build robots.

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Are you advocating for people yelling robot, or against it? I can’t tell.

I would love for this practice to stop altogether. It’s not helpful, and it’s very annoying.

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Organization, stop with the antiquated designs, get path planning working consistently, just git gud tbh.

There might be a few threads on this right now, not sure tho.

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Same, man. Same.

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1257? Stay retired until FIRST changes. There are more effective ways to inspire our students that don’t throw them into another blender. I might be wrong though and 1257 might be resurrected for a second time. No clue yet.

FIRST? Be explicit in messaging, be present in your communities, and culturally reset our standards and set the bar (ideally). If you don’t feel you’re good enough examples we need to have that talk with you as a community too. Put to rest the age old dramas we peter on about on this silly site (the ones I don’t wanna look at especially) and make it easier to get help from one another (mentor network does not work…) In short? Be good mentors for mentors, and we all succeed.

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Admittedly, my first thought was “eeh we changed enough already, let’s see how close to previous we can get (safely)!”

More practically, though, this year was an exercise in flexibility and fast, non-in-person communication. Personally, I hope to leverage that skillset going forward to find ways to increase team output, without increasing burden on individuals (work smarter not harder sort of stuff).

Ooooh, THAT’s the thing I built this season. Got it. I was wondering.

I imagine a robot cart with a giant wedge of the front to help part the sea of people as we barge our way to the field. Mad Max all the way.

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Could you be more specific? Everything you said seems very “hand wavey”, as if you expect everyone to know exactly what you are talking about. I would love a more in-depth explanation if you have the time. Thanks!

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That’s… a very fair point, my apologies for not being more specific.

FIRST? Be explicit in messaging, be present in your communities, and culturally reset our standards and set the bar (ideally).

FIRST as an organization doesn’t really engage in the places that their communities congregate. You can find vendors in Discord, on CD, on Reddit, and their own email. FIRST as an organization has no public, rapid, or otherwise accessible feedback mechanism. Even their own surveys for things like the end of Stop Build Day were problematic (don’t have the survey questions easily accessible but in essence they were poorly written and lead the survey taker on.) This would normally be the job of a community manager, but they don’t have one of those.

HQ in the past has hinted fairly openly that they read CD as a site, they at least make that strategic choice. I just wish that we could have discourse with the people who make it work.

If the folks at HQ don’t feel that they can fill a role that involves talking to the community more regularly and openly, then we as a community (including them) need to no-blame figure out why that is. Every relationship involves communication and failing to meet that bar is indicative of other things that need work.

Things like “mentor-built robots” are things that FIRST used to talk about explicitly, but in recent memory hasn’t made a real statement on, or codified that culture anywhere. It’s lead to some grizzly situations where clarification, even a clarification of ambiguity, would help.

There are more nuanced, in-depth discussions than that one, like bag vs no bag, accommodating international teams (or the lack of accommodations thereof) and countless other issues. Clarifying in the public eye, and / or in a discoverable place such that new teams aren’t left in the dark, is a move I wish they’d collectively make,

FIRST launched a mentor network in the team dashboard a while ago. Did you know about it? I did because a group I’m in discussed it and how it fails to meet the needs of recruiting and communicating. It assumed that you’re always a team looking for mentors or a mentor looking for teams, had several bugs, and ultimately doesn’t really help folks effectively communicate.

I personally feel a verified email relay (emailing mentors.1257@frcteams.firstinspires.org or something forwards the email to every mentor for a team if you’re already a mentor on a team, for example) would help, but that’s neither here nor there.


Finally, all of my previous post makes the assumption and treatment that HQ is homogeneous. I know factually that it isn’t; there are tons of people there many of whom are key former members of the community as a whole with a wide variety of takes and methods of work. HQ seems to me to run like a really big FRC team, for better or for worse. Unfortunately their role in the greater FIRST organization isn’t always publicized, leading to the annoying habit of cursing HQ as a whole, rather than trying to talk to a specific person to figure out why, improve it, etc. So long as their communication and visibility remains impacted, this habit seems likely to stay, much to my chagrin.

Edit: If anyone at HQ wants to talk, email me at firsthq (at) hi-im.kim I know CD is a no-go sometimes.

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Forget that wimpy ‘plow’, we need a huge snowblower maw… That’ll move ‘em. Just PLEASE stop yelling Robot, thanks. “Excuse Me” works really well ya’ know…

Ah, so what to change? Team: We need a few more members, so recruiting needs to be a higher priority. We are doing well now that fiundraising and business was prioritized 4 years ago, let’s see if we can’t do the same for building a team larger than … uhh, is it 5 this year? Other than that, I think we’re doing OK.

FIRST: Yeah, social support for the mentors would be cool. A way to meet and get to know mentors on the teams within xx miles from here. Some do this informally, like when a dozen of us met (pre-pandemic, pre-season) at Taco Mac in Dunwoody, but perhaps something more formal, with more time allotted, that is more for socializing / meeting others, than say a workshop on xxxx where one person is presenting to a room full of people. But, admittedly, some of that is on the mentors too, so I’d like an easy way to contact Team XXX if I have a question or want to visit.

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Are you saying that 1257 retired for all these reasons, or that the team retired and you hope they don’t un-retire until the above is fixed?

1257 didn’t compete due to COVID. I personally feel 1257 shouldn’t do FRC but for reasons other than the ones outlined as criticisms of FIRST in my posts above. Sorry for not being more clear

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One thing I worry about with the break is that those that do have experience are going to fall harder into the things we’re wanting to change. I don’t blame them, since they probably liked them if they were participating in the first place, but obviously people will be very excited to be back and will be more enthusiastic about what they’ve missed over the past years.

That being said, I do think we need to look at the way we conduct ourselves at events. I’ll preface by saying, I don’t think FRC needs to be a no fun allowed zone. I love all the goofy stuff that happens at competitions and how there’s in general a very fun atmosphere surrounding things. The best team in the world is named after a joke from South Park, we really can’t take ourselves too seriously. However, it’s been made clear to me how much we can let the “event experience” get in the way of the event itself. We’ve gotten better at this through the past few years with things like the tagging game being killed off through event rules and paper airplanes during Einstein staying in St. Louis, but it’s clear that the actual matches, the things people came to see, what the teams have paid thousands of dollars and traveled for hours to take part in, do not always take the highest priority at events. A shining example are the Einstein matches at Worlds. There are, at most, three total final matches. They should take no longer than 30 minutes. What we get is several times that spent on a bunch of executives rambling on about how cool and important they are because they put together the money to rent out a stadium that no one actually wants to be in, as well as a bunch of pointless filler videos and random performances (Remember the St. Louis 2017 BMX guys? Why was that necessary?) while the robots sit out on the field ready for the next match. Even worse is when they pad it out with FTC matches just so FIRST can say they’re giving them equal billing with FRC when FTC doesn’t even have a FMS or a working progression system.

Another, smaller example are the opening ceremonies at regionals. I don’t think I have seen a single opening ceremonies that would have been better than an extra match or extra work time in the pits. It’s just not necessary in a competition where we have a lot to get done over 2 days, and every second of time we can get can make a huge difference for improving the experience of an event.

Kind of got sidetracked while writing this, but my keyboard’s burned into my screen now…

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4276 has lost or is losing most of our students due to graduation over the last two seasons. I’m looking at what I should do to recruit. Team culture and organization are major concerns, and I’m thinking it might be helpful to consider who doesn’t join robotics as much as who does.

An overwhelming majority of HS kids don’t participate in FIRST (and specifically FRC). Most of those are students who have zero interest (that they know of) in stemmy things. Let’s forget them for now. However, there is a decent cohort of students in high school who are interested in stemmy fields of study and still don’t join robotics.

Most mentors/coaches/teachers have decent enough access to talk to the kids on their teams and ask why the students joined, what they want to major in, etc. What most mentors don’t have is access to the kids who skipped the FIRST experience.

As a teacher, I do.

I see the top honor roll kid who is going to major in mechanical engineering, and spent four years playing tennis, but never came to one robotics recruitment event. When I asked why, he didn’t have an answer.

I have the student in my class who asked about computer science as a major, and when I bring up the fact that we do computer science in robotics, she doesn’t seem interested.

I begin to wonder: Does the robotics team have a bad reputation that I’m unaware of?
It’s sort of like wondering if your breath stinks… until you force yourself to get a whiff, you don’t notice.

While a lot of people have already planned out summer projects and academies, and what not, I’m putting any sort of recruitment on hold until I can figure out some answers to previously unasked questions:

  • What can I (and the mentors) provide the students that they can’t get elsewhere?
  • Do students want to be on a competitive robotics team, or to be part of a group that builds something they’re proud of?
  • How much of my personal time am I willing to sacrifice to make this experience happen for the kids?
  • And I’m sure there’ll be more to come…

Note: there is nothing in that list about FIRST’s goals.

I’m still a little hooked on FRC. I admit it. But if the needs of the kids are better served in other ways, and I can help, I will adapt.

As for FIRST? Don’t hold your breath for changes.

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In all seriousness, I think there’s a lot of exploration to be done in hands-on engineering projects that don’t require an FRC registration.

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I’d imagine that yelling “Excuse Me!” while rushing to the field on final call wouldn’t be any less annoying than yelling “Robot!” and, it would provide less notification that a roughly 200-pound robot + cart was barrelling towards you from behind.

Back when I was a student there was a team sponsored by a car radio installer and they had 12" subs on their cart. You always knew when they were coming.

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If a 200lb robot+cart is barreling towards me in an unsafe manner, then that’s the fault of the person(s) pushing the cart and not the people “in the way”. Yelling “Robot” tells me that there’s a robot approaching from an unknown distance while also making it harder to have other conversations, it doesn’t tell me if I’m in the way, or someone behind me, or someone in the next aisle over depending on who’s yelling it.

The idea isn’t to run to the field yelling “Excuse me” instead of “Robot”. The idea is that you have someone politely, calmly asking people to move out of the way in front of the robot cart while you safely wheel it to the field.

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cries in 1717

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